The 22nd Unified Wine & Grape Symposium held last week in Sacramento attracted a record 13,800 attendees, who visited the 650 exhibitors packed into every corner of the Sacramento Convention Center and heard seminars on grape-growing, winemaking, marketing and business.
The show has been presented since 1994 by two nonprofit organizations, the American Society for Enology and Viticulture (ASEV) and the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG).
More than 400 people paid to hear the opening luncheon address by feisty Fred Franzia, the CEO of Bronco Wine Co.
Franzia, who rarely speaks publicly, was in his usual attack mode.
The father of “Two Buck Chuck” co-founded his wine company in 1973 with his brother and cousin after their parents sold the family business to The Coca-Cola Co. He delivered zingers worthy of Donald Trump to rapt listeners.
He also announced that the company has delivered more than 1 billion bottles of Charles Shaw Wine, called Two Buck Chuck for its former price in California Trader Joe’s stores (it’s now $3).
Franzia also renamed its Escalon winery Petri Wine Co. in honor of Louis Petri, its founder, whose company was once larger than Gallo.
Franzia thanked the Wine Group, which bought the Franzia brand from Coca-Cola, for allowing him to acquire the name, joking, “Maybe we’ll be able to reclaim the Franzia name next.”
Franzia’s talk wandered all over the map, and included some sharp comments about current trends.
Franzia sai that the San Joaquin Valley has been and will be the major source of grapes to produce highest-quality California table wine.
The largest vineyard holder in California with 40,000 acres of vines, Franzia adamantly defended the San Joaquin Valley against recent comments that its time was past.
Referring to a recent report of wine from Silicon Valley Bank, he said, “Mr. [Rob] McMillan, working for a coastal bank that makes loans to high-end wine producers may be crying wolf too loud about the San Joaquin Valley. If he has not noticed, it is the San Joaquin-based and -sourced wineries that are buying the coastal wineries. I will stand by on our belief and not be mislead by Mr. McMillan’s doom and gloom”
He repeated his wish, “Every restaurant should offer $10 bottles of wine. That would improve demand.”
He said he thinks America could drink a billion cases of wine by 2040, up from 327 million last year.
Franzia and Bronco are generous donors of research money to the American Vineyard Foundation, but he disdains government money for research. He said much is ill spent, notably his claimed $600,000,000 spent on the glassy-winged sharpshooter.
“Our own company has spend $2 million on the insect,” he said, yet he claims to have found no glassy-winged sharp-shooter in 25 years in his 25 square miles of vineyards in Kern County.
“Obviously, Napa and Sonoma counties are more conducive to incubating disease than other California grapegrowing areas but they want the rest of California growers to pay for their research.”
He also said that he welcomes recent changes in leadership at Fresno State University wine program. “This gives the school an opportunity to hire new faculty and create a great practical viticulture department that can be responsive to the industry needs.”
Franzia disagrees with Allied Grape Growers’ statement that we need to pull more than 30,000 acres of grapes. “We should be planting more better and quality grapes and grow them more efficiently in the San Joaquin Valley to attack the 40 percent of the wine market now being supplied by non-California foreign wines.”
He said he thinks “California” should be the primary appellation on California wines. “In my opinion, the appellation system caused the downfall of French wines and will do the same in California.”
Finally, Franzia expressed great concern about the mergers occurring in distribution and retail. “We’ll see less competition and tighter channels to sell wine.”
Even better attended (it was included in registration) was the State of the Industry talk on Wednesday. Many stood as 1,200 listened to information-packed presentations from:
— Mike Veseth, the “Wine Economist,” who talked about global trends.
— Nat DuBuduo of Allied Grape Grapes discussed grape supply and planting;
—Steve Fredricks of Turrentine Brokerage covered wine and grape supplies
— industry market research guru Jon Fredrikson explained the wine market.
DuDuduo estimated the 2015 harvest at 3.7 million tons, down from 3.9 million tons in 2014 and 4.25 million in 2013.
He reported that a confidential survey of nurseries found that 65 percent of the vines sold last year were red, and almost 31 percent cabernet sauvignon. Pinot grigio was in second place with 17 percent, then pinot noir with 15 percent.
Finally, Jon Fredrikson overwhelmed the audience with data, including some important numbers:
He estimated 2015 California production was 230 million cases and other states contributed 35 million for a total U.S. production of 266 million cases, growing 2 percent over 2014. (Numbers are rounded off.)
Bulk imports were down 14 percent to 21 million equivalent cases, but bottles imports rose 6 percent to 96 million cases, leaving a total of production and imports in the U.S. market at 383 million cases.
He also reported that craft beer passed California table wine shipments priced at less than $10 in 2011 and has been growing rapidly while cheap wine is flat at best.
Overall, cheaper wines continue to decline, but the more expensive ones (over $10) continue to grow.
Even in boxed wines, consumers are moving up: Premium 3-liter boxes continue to grow rapidly (22 percent last year), but other large format slumped, 5 liter boxes dramatically.
Fredrikson also chose 600,000-case Michael David Winery in Lodi, which makes Seven Deadly Zins and other brands, as his winery of the year, edging out E&J Gallo. Gallo has many brands, some new, among the fastest growing, and also bought a number of wineries to move upscale.
The 2017 Unified show will be at the Sacramento Convention Center Jan. 24-26. For information, visit UnifiedSymposium.org.